Has a gentler euphemism ever been coined?: “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” by Mary Roach

In the history of medicine, has a gentler euphemism ever been coined for the act of excretion?

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
354 pages, W.W. Norton and Company, April 2013

I like Mary Roach.

I feel like Mary Roach and I could hang out and have dinner and be wildly inappropriate together. Not, like, throw straw wrappers at the waiters and laugh loudly enough to bother the other patrons, or anything. But say things like, “Well, what DOES happen to a person that dies unattended in a hot apartment and isn’t discovered for a week?” and neither of us would think the other person was insane or ghoulish, just scientifically curious about such things. (Because, seriously, things like this fascinate me. I mean, sure, they also gross me out a little, I’m only human. But it’s more of a “Ew, gross, TELL ME MORE!” thing. Don’t judge.)

I’ve read all but a couple of Roach’s other books and really enjoyed them. The science behind sex and the science behind death (Bonk and Stiff?) Yes, please. And it’s not just the science. These books are funny. She loves a good euphemism. She loves to make the uptight sciency-types squirm, but not really on purpose, just by being really curious and asking a lot of questions. And she loves when someone’s last name matches their profession (Mr. LeBeouf being a cattle inspector, for example. OK, fine, this is really funny if you speak French. Oui, oui, c’est vrai!)

I liked this one as well – maybe not as much as the other two I’ve read, but listen, I don’t know if anything can measure up to sex and death. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. (And I’m obsessed with death, and who doesn’t like sex?)

This book is about everything related to digestion – from our mouths all the way down to our…well, waste-removal systems. That would be taken care of by Dr. Colón. Heh.

I like things that people consider icky? So I was totally into this. Things like an entire chapter about a man who had a wound heal improperly so scientists could watch him digest food THROUGH A HOLE IN HIS SIDE ZOMG? Totally made me exclaim AND marvel. This is a book about burping and farting and different forms your poo can take and constipation and special underwear so you won’t gas out your significant other and how it’s totally ok to lick spit off your lips, but it is NOT ok to lick spit off your arm once you’ve spit on it because it’s a cultural taboo to re-ingest your own saliva. (Also kind of gross, but that’s beside the point.) If these kinds of things gross you out, probably avoid this. But they’re not egregiously gross. It’s SCIENCY. It’s the science of how all these things work. How our saliva helps with the breaking down of our food; how our stomach works; how the intestines work; how waste is produced. I love things like this. I mean, it’s not like you can SEE in there. You need someone to tell you what’s happening. And Mary Roach does! In a very funny sciency way!

I’m more of a fiction person (I always will be) but I’ve been reading a few more non-fiction books at the start of this year, and am glad I found this one. Now I know that the scientific term for my stomach growling is borborygmus, and doesn’t that make you all feel so much smarter? Yes. Yes, it does. You are WELCOME.



  1. wordsmith94

    It sounds like the type of non-fiction I’d like to read as well: conversational, but insightful. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Mary Roach. Thanks for reviewing, otherwise I’d never have known she existed!

    • lucysfootball

      I think you’d love her! She’s really funny – it’s almost like one of us stumbled into a lab and started asking a lot of excited questions. They’re very relatable, and you barely realize how much you’ve learned when you’re done! (I highly recommend Bonk and Stiff!)

    • lucysfootball

      Bonk (about sex) isn’t so gross. Stiff is only gross if death (and I suppose decomposition) gross you out, and this one’s KIND of gross if bodily functions gross you out. But they’re really funny, and there’s a lot of science in them, too!

  2. becomingcliche

    I missed this one! And Bonk. I did not know there was a Bonk. How about that. I have learned THREE new things in this post. Thank you for making me more educated! My stomach JUST now growled, and I know what to call it.

    • lucysfootball

      Bonk is one of my favorites (as well as Stiff.) I liked this one, but those two are great. (And I hear good things about the one talking about what it’s like to go up in space – I’ll have to check that one out one of these days, too!) Look at all the things you learned today! I feel so fancy! YAY!

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